Will Covid-19 finish off fur for good? Mutant coronavirus strains in Danish mink could be the final straw in luxury fashion’s reckoning with animal rights

A model displays a fur collar at Fendi’s autumn/winter 19/20 show. The future of fur hangs in the balance after a nationwide cull of mink was ordered in Denmark after they were shown to be carrying a mutant strain of Covid-19. Photo: AFP
Versace, Gucci and Prada have all joined the anti-fur movement in recent years. But the latest body blow to the industry has come courtesy of Covid-19, via a mutation of the virus found in mink.

The animals have emerged as highly efficient spreaders of coronaviruses, potentially complicating efforts to control a pandemic that’s already claimed more than a million human lives worldwide. Last week, Denmark revealed it had found a variant of the virus that officials fear could be so disruptive that it justified ordering the extermination of the country’s entire mink population – all 17 million animals.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has acknowledged that wiping out all breeding mink means the industry may not recover in Denmark, which is among the world’s biggest producers of the fur.

“My position remains that the mink have to be culled, because they pose a risk to human health,” she said in Copenhagen on Tuesday (November 10).

With mink farming potentially a complication in the fight against the coronavirus, the future of Europe’s fur industry seems less certain than ever. Outside Denmark, other mink-producing nations are watching closely as they figure out their next steps.

Mink in a fur farm in Gjoel, Denmark. The country plans to cull all mink in its fur farms to contain the spread of a coronavirus mutation. Photo: EPA-EFE

“We are alarmed by the news from Denmark,” said Nadezhda Zubkova, executive director for Russia’s National Association of Fur Animal Breeders. “But so far it’s about scientists’ assumptions.”

In Sweden, authorities say they have transmission of the virus among mink under control. But roughly a quarter of Swedish mink farms have had outbreaks, and the industry realises it can’t ignore the risks. Jorgen Martinsson, the head of Swedish Mink, said in a Facebook post that “we must never hide from the difficult questions.”

The luxury industry

A model presents a fur bag as part of the Fendi autumn/winter 18/19 women’s collection during Milan Fashion Week in February 2018. Photo: Xinhua

The real shift might come from within the luxury industry itself. Diana Verde Nieto, co-founder of Positive Luxury, which rates the social and environmental impact of high-end brands, says that the “spread of the virus among the mink population in Denmark is likely to be another wake-up call. The world as a whole has to rethink our relationship with nature,” she added.

LVMH established a supply charter last year that aims to protect biodiversity. While the world’s largest luxury conglomerate lets its brands decide whether to use fur, one of the goals of the new policy is to make it possible to trace individual pelts back to the farms where they were bred.

Even before mink became associated with coronavirus mutations, the industry was facing a bleak future. Global mink production has dropped to about 45 million pelts, almost half the all-time high of 87 million in 2014, according to Fur Europe, a lobby group for the industry in Brussels.

A “perfect storm”

A model in fur at the Fendi autumn/winter 18/19 women’s collection during Milan Fashion Week in February 2018. Photo: Xinhua

The organisation has defended the industry, and says the fur trade has played “no significant role” in spreading the disease and that mink farmers have increased screening since the pandemic began in the spring. It argues that there’s still room in the world for fur.

“The fundamental demand for natural fur is strong,” Fur Europe said in a statement last week. It says the key is renewable products, rather than “today’s ‘buy and throw away’ culture”.

The fur industry is well versed in battling negative campaigns and is gearing up for another fight. But the science may be hard to ignore.

As Kare Molbak, Denmark’s top epidemiologist, put it in an interview with Politiken, “Mink are very easily infected by the coronavirus, and once it’s there, it spreads at the speed of light,” he said. “We’ve seen how that then spreads to humans. That makes it practically impossible to handle the spread during a pandemic. It’s a perfect storm.”

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This article originally appeared on Bloomberg.


With Versace, Gucci and Prada already anti-fur, Prime Minister of Denmark Mette Frederiksen’s call for a complete cull of the country’s mink – some 17 million animals – might just signal the beginning of the end for fur in fashion